Book Review: Three Well-known English Kintsugi Books

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Book Review: Three Well-known English Kintsugi Books
Kintsugi is increasingly popular abroad. As a Japanese kintsugi-girl, it is always very interesting to see how kintsugi is perceived in other countries. That is why I have decided to read the three most popular English books about kintsugi: 
  1. “Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body, and Spirit,” by Candice Kumai
  2. “Kintsugi: Embrace your imperfections and find happiness – the Japanese way,” by Tomás Navarro
  3. “Kintsugi: Finding Strength in Imperfection,” by Céline Santini

In this article, I share with you my personal review of each of them. :)

 

Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body, and Spirit

Author: Candice Kumai

Concept of this book: Kintsugi x wellness

In this book, Kumai recounts some hardships she had to face in her life and she shares numerous wellness tips inspired by Japanese concepts. The book also features Japanese recipes.

Kumai is an American of Japanese descent and throughout her book, I could feel the strong link connecting her to her Japanese heritage. I found that she did a really good job at explaining Japanese concepts and customs in simple words. I sometimes felt that her interpretations of certain concepts were sometimes slightly different than the interpretation a Japanese person born and raised in Japan would have, but it was actually refreshing for me to be able to have a look at my own culture from a new perspective.

In the first half of the book, the author shares various personal stories. I was pretty moved to read how her journey to Japan helped her move on with her life after a difficult break-up. In the second half of the book, Kumai introduces Japanese dishes and cooking tips. I have to say that I felt that the way Japanese dishes were presented in the book did not match how they would usually be cooked in Japan. I assume that the recipes were adjusted to fit the tastes of a wide foreign audience, which actually makes a lot of sense.

Regarding kintsugi, Kumai mentions in her book a trip she made to Kyoto during which she met a kintsugi artisan. However, it appears that the artisan in question does not practice traditional kintsugi, but so-called “modern kintsugi,” which uses synthetic glue such as epoxy. Even though I do not think modern kintsugi is completely bad, as a kintsugist, I have a clear preference for traditional kintsugi because it uses natural, foodsafe ingredients and it is based on a long history of craftsmanship. In other words, I found Kumai’s introduction to kintsugi pretty superficial. 

Kumai’s book gave me the impression that she ran out of things to write about kintsugi halfway through her book and so she had to expand her subject and connect it to other themes such as wellness. 

I enjoyed the first part of the book but, overall, I was rather disappointed by this book because I thought kintsugi would be more deeply discussed. That being said, you could enjoy this book if you are  looking to read something light connected to Japanese culture and kintsugi.


Kintsugi: Embrace your imperfections and find happiness – the Japanese way

Author: Tomás Navarro

Concept of this book: Kintsugi x psychology

This book starts with an exotic Japanese anecdote featuring a conversation between an artisan and a young potter. This story is most likely fictitious, but I was really taken by the story and I was really curious to read how the story would turn out.

Afterwards, this Japanese short story is split into many short extracts that are disseminated through the book. Navarro discusses various psychological narratives that can help you by connecting many psychological cases to kintsugi. Please note that this book doesn't teach you how to do kintsugi.

Since the author is a professional psychologist, I assume that he knows what he is talking about when discussing psychology and emotional traumas. However, in my case, I think that what helped me overcome emotional wounds was to change my mindset. I think changing the way you see things is not easy and takes time though.

I would recommend this book to people who would like to seek professional counseling to handle emotional trauma or hardships.


Kintsugi: Finding Strength in Imperfection

Author: Céline Santini

Concept of this book: Kintsugi x Next Action

For this book, Santini has gathered a wide range of quotes by popular authors. All the quotes are very beautiful and heartfelt. I was surprised by the large number of popular quotes Santini could associate with kintsugi. The quotes allowed me to reflect on myself and change my way of thinking about certain things. 

Each chapter starts with a new quote and contains practical steps to approach kintsugi, but also to heal yourself from emotional wounds. The book works like a kind of workbook.

By reading this book, you can learn how to do kintsugi. Each step is described in detail, and I’m pleased to say that the instructions match what I have personally been taught during my kintsugi training in Japan. Unfortunately, the kintsugi instructions do not actually mention the quantities needed for each ingredient, which is necessary to start doing kintsugi. Nonetheless, I find that this book was a pleasant read. This book is not a kintsugi DIY guide, but rather a beautiful workbook aiming to help you heal your emotional traumas and move forward.

There is also one thing I would like to note regarding this book. When explaining the origins of kintsugi, Santini writes the following:

“In Muromachi period (around the 14th century) a Shogun found a crack in his valuable vessel from China, so he shipped to China for repair. China sent it back to Japan by stapling the cracks with metal clamps but it didn’t seem beautiful from the shogun’s perspective. So he asked his servant to re-repair it with more beautiful way. The servant decorated the cracks with urushi and genuine gold powder – this is the kintsugi.”

The story hereinabove is presented as a factual story but, in Japan, this story is actually thought to be a story made up as a joke during the Edo period. Based on my own research, the real origins of kintsugi are still unknown to this day. In my opinion, this lack of available information gives kintsugi a mysterious image and it most likely plays a part in the growing popularity of kintsugi.


Final thoughts

The reviews above only reflect my own opinion, and you may have a different reading experience depending on your own background and expectations.

After reading these three books, I have realized that kintsugi is often used as a metaphor for resilience in the face of hardship abroad. The idea is that, just like broken ceramics can be fixed with lacquer and gold powder, people can heal from their wounds and lead a beautiful life. It is pretty fascinating for me to see how prevalent this vision of kintsugi is, because kintsugi is mostly seen as a refined repairing technique in Japan. Japanese people do not usually associate kintsugi with art therapy or mental health. It was thus very interesting for me to discover this new way of looking at kintsugi. 

I’m very happy that an increasing number of people are interested in kintsugi and associate it with resilience and personal growth. 

As I am a kintsugist (I don’t call myself an artisan, but a true modern-day kintsugi lover as well as a kintsugi specialist), I’d like to keep engaging with kintsugi enthusiasts from all over the world and spread the beauty of this delicate art.

Kintsugi has changed my life and I would be glad to help others discover the beauty behind this ancient art inside and outside Japan 🙂

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